A tribute to the “Father of NEXRAD”

Dale Sirmans
Dale Sirmans

For many in the weather radar community, Dale Sirmans is recognized as the father of the NEXt-Generation RADar (NEXRAD). As the lead engineer and principal architect of NSSL’s first 10-cm Doppler weather radar, his leadership and guidance helped bring Doppler radar to the National Weather Service.  Sirmans recently passed away on December 23 in Albertville, Ala., at 76, and we wanted to celebrate his five decades of contributions to weather radar, weather science and to the careers of future engineers and scientists.

Sirmans started at NSSL during the early 1960’s, making key contributions to the understanding of Doppler weather radar theory.  He led his team to build one of the first 10-cm Doppler weather radar systems in the world for investigating the use of Doppler measurements for severe weather detection.  This radar became the prototype for the current NEXRAD, or Weather Surveillance Radar -1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) network.

Since Doppler weather radar was new to the weather community, Sirmans also made significant contributions by identifying the most efficient Doppler weather radar data estimation and analysis techniques.  He meticulously documented and reported his findings, and many of the techniques are still used today, or formed the foundation for new developments.

By the early 1980’s, most of the science and basic engineering principles necessary to develop a usable Doppler weather radar were understood.  This attracted attention from the National Weather Service, the U.S. Air Force’s Air Weather Service, and the Federal Aviation Administration.  They decided to form a Joint System Program Office (JSPO) to develop a new NEXRAD radar network for the nation.  Sirmans played a key role in the full-scale development of the WSR-88D system and by the end of the 1980’s the U.S. government had a first production version of the WSR-88D ready for validation.

As the research radar technology transitioned into national deployment and operations, Sirmans left NSSL to become the first Chief of the new NEXRAD Operational Support Facility (OSF) Engineering Branch, effectively becoming the Chief Engineer for all WSR-88D operations.  He retired briefly then returned to the OSF (later renamed the Radar Operations Center) as an employee of the OSF support contractor, supporting the Nation’s network of radars by documenting performance and solving unique technical problems.  Every area of the WSR-88D benefited from his expertise, from basic hardware to radome cleaning processes.

Sirmans also had the ability to impact the lives and careers of people he knew, mentoring a new generation of engineers and scientists who will carry on his work.  His dedication to his work continued until his death, and his contributions have helped forecasters save thousands of lives.